New Construction on Pratt?

1233 W Pratt Rendering

Residences at 1233 W Pratt Rendering

Developer is Encouraged by Productive Discussions with 49th Ward Office.

For years, the middle of the 1200 block of West Pratt Avenue sat vacant and unused. Formally a Synagogue, the site has been vacant since the early 2000s when a plan to redevelop it with a mix of apartments and a new Synagogue fell apart. In the years since, we have experienced a major recession featuring a ruinous housing market crash in Rogers Park, and now a global pandemic.

You would think that these conditions would be enough to dissuade anyone from even thinking about building a apartment property on Pratt. Well, call him crazy if you like, but one of our members is confident enough about the future of Chicago and the Rogers Park community to do just that.

That member is RPBG Director Ibrahim Shihadeh. For years, Mr. Shihadeh has tried to bring development to the Pratt site. Mr. Shihadeh and Alan Goldberg, another RPBG Director, first proposed a redevelopment in the early 2000s as a joint-venture with the former owners of the site. In March 2018, Mr. Shihadeh purchased the site outright and has been pursuing a new development since that time. Mr. Shihadeh would like to see a mix of uses, possibly combining multifamily and structured parking.

You would think that these conditions would be enough to dissuade anyone from building a apartment property on Pratt. Call him crazy, but one of our members is doing just that.

During a previous development attempt, former Alderman Joe Moore severely downzoned the site to allow for the construction of just three single-family homes. According to Mr. Shihadeh, former Alderman Moore did this to ensure that any development would need his approval before it could be built, but with the clear understanding that a larger, multifamily structure would eventually get approved. This kind of spot zoning is a good example of the uses and misuses of Aldermanic prerogative. It was, and still remains, an unavoidable hurdle that all developers in Chicago must face.

The political landscape shifted dramatically when Alderman Moore lost his re-election bid to newcomer, Maria Hadden, in February 2019. The new Alderwoman brought with her to the office a more progressive outlook than her predecessor, and a new set of challenges to anyone wishing to build in the Ward.

49th Ward Alderperson Maria Hadden

Mr. Shihadeh will be the first to say that initial negotiations with the Alderwoman and her staff did not go well. The two sides had widely different views of what should be built at the site. Several early meetings produced no tangible results.

That all changed over the last six months. Three recent meetings have resulted in a dramatic change of tone and a meeting of the minds on how to move forward. Mr. Shihaheh even reports that he has forged a close, working relationship with the Alderwoman and Torrence Gardner, 49th Ward Director of Economic & Community Development. Mr. Shihadeh complements both the Alderwoman and Mr. Gardner for their willingness to listen, and their understanding of the economic consequences of their development wish-list. As a result of these meetings, the two sides have found a way to compromise on a development that would meet the needs of the wider community.

The new Alderwoman brought with her to the office a more progressive outlook than her predecessor, and a new set of challenges to anyone wishing to build in the Ward.

This outcome is as encouraging as it was unanticipated. In her first year as Alderwoman, Maria Hadden famously refused to consider a zoning variance for the proposed development of the Heartland Café. Rather than grant the developer a zoning variance in exchange for a 10% allocation of on-site, affordable units, the Alderwoman opted to withhold the zoning variance for a smaller development with no affordable component. This project is now on hold due to the challenging economic circumstances of the current moment.

Whatever the reason for the change in tone, Mr. Shihadeh is both delighted and grateful for the productive negotiations he has had with Alderwoman Hadden and her staff. The two sides now have a proposed development plan that they both agree is worthy of further consideration, and which Alderwoman Hadden will present to the community at an open meeting to be held sometime in mid-November.

While the details of this agreement are not publicly available, Mr. Shihadeh reports that the Alderwoman is agreeable to the concept of “10% plus one” affordable units, all to be provided on-site. The City’s ARO requirements are triggered anytime a zoning variance is needed. Due to the previous down-zoning of the site, the only as-of-right option available to Mr. Shihadeh is to build three, single-family homes, a dramatic underuse of the site that would offer few residual benefits to the wider community.

Mr. Shihadeh is both delighted and grateful for the productive negotiations he has had with Alderwoman Hadden and her staff.

These recent developments are a very hopeful sign for future relations between the Alderwoman and local developers. At a time when some of Alderwoman Hadden’s colleagues are doubling down on their opposition – if not downright hostility – to developers of market-rate housing in other Wards around the city, Alderwoman Hadden is doing just the opposite. She is working in good faith with a long-time owner, developer and manager whose commitment to Rogers Park remains strong. Rather than treat him with suspicion and hostility, Alderwoman Hadden recognizes the importance of continued investment in the community even while she advocates for more inclusivity.

To her credit, Alderwoman Hadden also recognizes the substantial contribution Mr. Shihadeh has made to the Rogers Park community over a period of decades, and his continued dedication and commitment to the community. This commitment includes Mr. Shihadeh’s long-term ownership of The Seville, a vintage mid-rise apartment building on the same Pratt block where the new development will be built.

It is important to recognize that this plan has not yet been presented to the public, and does not yet have the Alderwoman’s official support. It is highly likely that the planned community meeting will attract anti-development activists who will oppose whatever plans are presented. It is also likely that many of the activists will not even be residents of Rogers Park. This will be another test for the Alderwoman who got elected, in no small part, due to the support she garnered from these groups.

At a time when some of Alderwoman Hadden’s colleagues are doubling down on their opposition – if not downright hostility – to developers of market-rate housing in other Wards around the city, Alderwoman Hadden is doing just the opposite.

RPBG hopes that Alderwoman Hadden will recognize the legitimate aspirations, not just of her most ardent supporters, but of the entire community she represents. If the good-will that has been established between developer and Ward office continues, we may see the first significant new-construction, market-rate building come out of the ground in Rogers Park since the pandemic struck. If that happens, we will owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mr. Shihadeh for putting his capital at risk in a difficult economic and political environment. But we will owe no less a debt of gratitude to Alderwoman Hadden for showing the political leadership needed to make this development possible.

Members of RPBG, Alderwoman Hadden and her 49th Ward staff all agree on one thing. Rogers Park derives tremendous energy and strength from its racial, ethnic, religious and economic diversity. We all want to see this diversity preserved and maintained. We hope that the final, approved plans for the Pratt site help accomplish this goal.

If the good-will that has been established between developer and Ward office continues, we may see the first significant new-construction, market-rate building come out of the ground in Rogers Park since the pandemic struck.

It is RPBG’s belief that this development is needed more now than ever as both the neighborhood and the city struggle to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic and the civil unrest that has occurred this year. New development on the long-dormant Pratt site will send a strong message that the community can recover from its current economic difficulties and attract new residents.